Matt Heft is hungry, and he’s not afraid to tell you that. Hungry for life, for experiences, and to create art.
So far, so good.
His great grandfather did his rounds with the carnival circuit, wearing many different hats: hustler, wrestler, and best of all, tattoo artist. He didn’t find this out until years later, when he was already into tattooing himself, but it goes to show there’s something in the blood.
Artistically inclined since his early days (he used to get in trouble at school for drawing on himself), Heft took his first apprenticeship in 2002. But things really took off when he moved down south to All or Nothing Tattoo and Arts Studio in Smyrna, Georgia. He put in backbreaking hours and hit the books with a zen-like focus, commuting to work on a 10-speed bike and working seven days a week. There, he soaked in the collected knowledge of the veteran staff (in particular close friend Tim Orth) , learning everything from business and promotion to machine building. In his own words: “I’m here to do what I do. I didn’t see this on TV and decide it was cool. It’s just what had to be” .
Then came the graduation. Heft ended up at Whaling City Tattoo Museum in New London, Connecticut, where his notoriety continued to grow. Next up: A guest stay at Golden Spiral in Greensboro, North Carolina. Here’s a bit of the flavor he brings with him.
Heft himself said a few years back that he found himself moving further away from the fads and trends of the tattoo world, instead focusing on his own creative instinct. The evidence is in the ink, and here Heft collides a few simple beauties – the flowers flanking the horse, the horse’s exquisite mane – with the grotesque and disquieting.
In fourteenth century Europe, the nose of this mask would have been packed with sweet smelling medicinal herbs. Based on the miasma theory of disease, it was thought that the scent would purify disease-causing fumes, protecting the doctor from – what else? – the Bubonic Plague. And since these doctors exclusively treated those suffering from The Black Death, it’s appropriately matched with the words “Ashes to Ashes”, a unique and intriguing symbol of a haunting sentiment.
A bit of humorous social commentary, this unique take on Jesus features the stereotypical emo “swoop” hairstyle, lip ring, and mascara. Even Jesus’ beard is immaculately styled for the maximum calculated level of faux-messiness, and the eye is immediately drawn to Jesus’s own eye – it’s the center of the image and colored a brilliantly bright shade of blue. Not coincidentally, it’s also the detail that compliments the punchline, “he cried for our sins”. He wouldn’t be emo Jesus without tears.
Matt Heft understands the interplay between art design and the medium. Like many other tattoo artists, he creates through a variety of mediums, but you don’t typically see tattoos apart from the human body. How best to display tattoos without using a person, then? Pigs’ feet is one way. Heft did a series of tattooed pig’s feet, and this design is particularly well suited. In terms of effect, where better to display a skull design than a severed limb, after all?
Vulture designs typically focus on the carrion eater aspect of the bird, evoking the morbid association of vultures with eating corpses or signaling that death is nearby. This vulture does have an unsettling gleam to its ice blue eyes, but this is a portrait, and one framed in flowers, something more unique than the norm.
In a similar vein, death and life are once again juxtaposed here. The bird is bright and cheery atop a bleach-boned weathered skull. A scene of flourishing life is dominated at its center by a reminder of the constancy of impermanence, a statement on the cycle of death and rebirth, all in the space of one arm.
This design exhibits similar aesthetic qualities, from the color choices to the overall style, but is perhaps a bit sweeter than the others – two turtles, seemingly embracing, set against a setting sun.
Characteristic of his go-getting, fiery attitude, the design is all Heft, but the medium is different, and so changes the style. This sort of piece would never work as a tattoo; the ink on skin just doesn’t work the same, and it would look progressively worse as the ink bleeds together and fades. Artists who work in a variety of mediums tend to exhibit some extra versatility in their tattoo work across the board, and Heft is no exception.
Look for Matt Heft to only improve with time. An artist who places self-improvement at a premium, his dedication to the never-ending process of perfecting his art is only going to pay off for his customers.